History of Niwot
By Anne Dyni
Niwot was named for Chief Niwot, an Arapahoe leader, whose people were hunting and fishing along the Front Range when the first gold miners arrived here in 1858. Niwot is situated in the valley bounded by Left Hand Creek and Gunbarrel Hill. The original townsite was platted on both sides of what is now the Diagonal Highway, the main route between Boulder and Longmont.
Niwot’s “Old Town” Historic District represents a significant collection of buildings dating from the early 1900s, typical of Boulder County’s early agricultural communities. Within the county, only two such communities (Hygiene and Niwot) remain today, basically unchanged since the turn of the century. Of the two, Niwot perhaps best represents the typical commercial aspects of an agricultural district linked to the railroad for distribution of its products.
The original Niwot townsite plat was recorded March 30, 1875 along both sides of the Colorado Central Railroad track at the site of an existing section house lying halfway between Boulder and Longmont. When Porter T. Hinman helped to lay out the town in 1875, the surrounding region was being settled by men whose names are still associated with the area. Hinman himself had arrived in 1860, and his name is still affiliated with Hinman Ditch, which runs through the town.
Niwot’s commercial district of the 1880s lay on the west side of the track near the depot, while most of the town’s residents lived on the east side. By 1896, businesses included a blacksmith shop and mercantile establishments. To the west stood the United Brethren Church, and beyond that was the Left Hand Grange Hall. The one-room Niwot schoolhouse had been built on Dan Burch’s place at 81st and Oxford Road, and the Batchelder School at 63rd and Monarch Road served children living southwest of town.
Railroad activity continued to revolve around the depot, but by the turn of the century, stores and services also began to appear across the track as well. When the Hogsett family opened their lumber yard and hardware store just east of the track in 1910, the community seemed to experience renewed energy. There was even talk of laying concrete sidewalks along both sides of Main Street.
A band shell was built across from the bank, where 18 local musicians held concerts on weekends and holidays. The bank was prospering and a weekly newspaper reported all of Niwot’s social and business activities every Friday. In the lot next to the bank stood a shack housing the town’s fire wagon.
John Nelson’s hall stood at the east end of the block, housing various businesses on the first floor and a meeting room upstairs for the Odd Fellows, Rebeccas, Royal Neighbors, and Modern Woodmen. The post office stood next to Nelson Hall, and across the street was a drugstore where the town doctor dispensed drugs and advice. Next to the drugstore were a pool hall and barber shop, favorite social gathering places after ballgames and band concerts. The Livingston Hotel stood in the middle of the block, its front porch extending all the way to the street. It catered to travelers as well as several local citizens and oilfield personnel working in the oil fields to the west of town.
The United Brethren Church, recently hauled across the track from its original location west of town, now sat on the corner of Third and Franklin. Diagonally from the church was the new cooperative creamery. The Seventh Day Adventists worshipped in the only other church in town in the second block of Main Street (Second Avenue). The old one-room school was gone now and Niwot had just completed a two story schoolhouse at the north end of town.
Along Murray Street, between Main Street and Third Avenue, stood the beet dump which drew farmers from great distances to town each October with beets to be shipped to Longmont for processing. A sidetrack had been laid next to the dump where Great Western rail cars could be parked to collect the loads of beets. Teams pulling beet wagons passed down Main Street continually during beet harvest, making deep ruts in the muddy street.
On the west side of the track, in 1912, stood an alfalfa mill and a grain elevator. The grangers were meeting closer to town now with a grange hall next to the elevator. The depot was still the hub of shipping activity with a stock pen to the north and feed mills to the south. Seven trains also stopped daily for passengers and mail on a line which was now owned by the Colorado and Southern Railroad.
All of the buildings west of the track have since burned, been torn down, or were moved in 1959 and 1960 to make room for the Longmont Diagonal. However, most of the buildings to the east of the track, dating from 1904 to about 1930, remain intact. Until development of the Royce Johnson farm at Niwot’s east edge in the 1980s, a lateral of Hinman Ditch delivered water to neighborhood properties. The main ditch still provides irrigation water east of town through a ditch paralleling Niwot Road.
A Short History of the Firehouse Museum
By Anne Dyni, excerpted from the Left Hand Valley Courier
When Boulder County created the Niwot Historic District in 1993, nine buildings were declared historically significant because of their age, importance in the town’s development, and relatively unaltered appearance. When researching such districts, it is rare to overlook an eligible building. But that is exactly what happened in Niwot.
Although the town’s first firehouse was built in 1910, few were aware of its existence because it had spent its last 24 years indoors. Many in town knew it in the 1970s and 1980s as Floyd Edmund’s office inside the Niwot Auction House on Second Avenue. It later served as Jim Knoch’s office when the building became the Niwot Antique Emporium.
Floyd Edmunds had built his business next to Wise Buys Antiques where the Livingston Hotel stood before being razed in the 1970s. Years before, the hotel proprietors had dragged the abandoned firehouse to the back of their hotel where it became a laundry shed. It was then that its swinging doors were removed and a standard door installed.
Floyd’s wife Carolyn was intrigued by the old building and wanted it preserved, so it was incorporated within the auction house as it was being built. That presented a dilemma when RLET Properties LLC purchased the building in 1997. Manager Cotton Burden offered the structure to the Niwot Historical Society, but everyone wondered if the firehouse could be safely moved.
With the help of volunteers, it was successfully separated into six pieces and hauled across the street to be reassembled next to the Left Hand Grange hall. When the historical society applied to the Boulder County Commissioners for landmarking, they required a signed agreement from the grange assuring that the firehouse could remain on their property indefinitely. On October 26, 1999, a 99-year lease was signed and the commissioners approved the landmarking unanimously.
The firehouse is now part of the Niwot Historic District and like the other nine contributing buildings in the district, it bears a bronze plaque describing its date of construction and original use.
Bibliography of Niwot References
1880 Colorado Census. Boulder Genealogical Society collection. Carnegie Branch Library, Boulder.
1892 Farmers Directory. Boulder Genealogical Society collection, Carnegie Branch Library, Boulder.
Armstead, Wanda Burch and Rose Northrop. Boulder County Colorado Marriage Records: 1860-1900. Boulder Genealogical Society collection. Camegie Branch Library, Boulder (1982).
Blumenson, John J.G. Identifying American Architecture: A Pictorial Guide to Styles and Terms, 1600-1945. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History (1981).
Boulder City Directories from 1896, 1898, 1916, 1918, 1921, 1926, 1928. Carnegie Library.
Colorado State Grange History, 1874-1974. Denver, Colorado: Colorado State Grange (1975).
Dyni, Anne. Oral History Collection: Amy Sherman Cushman, Evan Gould, Doyle Jones.
Dyni, Anne. Oral Interviews: Howard Morton, Blanche Atkinson, Idell and Charles Leinweber, Evan Gould.
Dyni, Anne. Telephone Interview with Wanda Armstead Burch. February 16, 1993.
Hansen II, James E. Democracy’s College in the Centennial State: A History of Colorado State University. Ft. Collins, Colorado: Colorado State University (1977).
Johnson, Rudolph. A Brief History of the Left Hand Grange. August 31, 1958.
Longmont Ledger. Obituary for Henry Hoopman Burch. January 1917.
McAlester, Virginia and Lee. A Field Guide to American Houses. New York: Alfred A. Knopf Publishing (1984).
Mehls, Steven F. Colorado Plains Historic Context. Colorado: The Historic Society of Colorado (1984).
Niwot Tribune: Issues from the 1920s.
Niwot Tribune. September 9, 1932.
Niwot Weekly News. April 19, 1912.
Oral History Tape #400-B: Mary Richart Hall. Camegie Branch Library, Boulder.
Pearce, Sarah J. and Merrill A. Wilson. A Guide to Colorado Architecture. Colorado: The State Historic Society of Colorado (1983).
Sears, Roebuck Catalog of Houses, 1926: An Unabridged Reprint. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. (1991).
Stewart, Jennie E. Boulder County Pioneers. Boulder Genealogical Society Collection. Carnegie Branch Library, Boulder (1946-1948).
St. Vrain Valley Pioneers. Boulder Genealogical Society collection. Carnegie Branch Library, Boulder.
Warren, Charles. “Lefthand Grange No. 9 Oldest In Colorado”. The Recorder. January 31, 1985.
Weiss, Manuel. The Boulder County Historical Site Survey. Vol. 3. (1981). Historic Landmark Nomination.
- "Old Town Niwot" Historic District Landmark Form (PDF, 5.1 MB)
- Niwot Rural Community District (Boulder County Land Use Article 4-116) (PDF, 221 KB)